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2 Misperceptions, the Media, and the Iraq War STEVEN KULL CLAY RAMSAY EVAN LEWIS The Iraq war and its aftermath have raised compelling questions about the capacity of the executive branch to elicit public consent for the use of military force and about the role the media plays in this process. From the outset, the Bush administration was faced with unique challenges in its effort to legitimate its decision to go to war. Because the war was not prompted by an overt act against the United States or its interests, and was not approved by the UN Security Council, the Bush administration argued that the war was necessary on the basis of a potential threat. Because the evidence for this threat was not fully manifest, the Bush administration led the public to believe that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and providing substantial support to the al Qaeda terrorist group. The challenge for the administration was later intensified when the United States occupied Iraq and was unable to find the expected corroborating evidence. From the outset the public was sympathetic to the idea of removing Saddam Hussein, though only a small minority of Americans was ready to go to war with Iraq without UN Security Council approval. 1 The majority was inclined to believe that Iraq had a WMD program and was supporting al Qaeda. However, 1 Asked in a Chicago Council on Foreign Relations poll in June 2002 about their position on invading Iraq, 65 percent said the United States should only invade Iraq with UN approval and the support of its allies ; 20 percent said the US should invade Iraq even if we have to go it alone ; and 13 percent said the US should not invade Iraq. STEVEN KULL is the director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), a joint program of the Center on Policy Attitudes and Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland of the School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland. CLAY RAMSAY is the director of research at PIPA. EVAN LEWIS is a research associate at PIPA. Political Science Quarterly Volume 118 Number
3 570 political science quarterly most were not persuaded that the case was strong enough to justify taking action unilaterally. The majority preferred to continue looking for more decisive evidence through the UN inspection process and to continue seeking the support of the UN Security Council. 2 Nevertheless, when the President decided to go to war, the majority of the public expressed support. More significantly, when the United States failed to find the expected evidence that would corroborate the administration s assumptions that prompted the war, the majority continued to support the decision to go to war. 3 This polling data raises the question of why the public has been so accommodating. Did they simply change their views about the war despite their earlier reservations? Or did they in some way come to have certain false beliefs or misperceptions that would make going to war appear more legitimate, consistent with pre-existing beliefs? A variety of possible misperceptions could justify going to war with Iraq. If Americans believed that the United States had found WMD in Iraq or had found evidence that Iraq was providing support to al Qaeda, then they may have seen the war as justified as an act of self-defense even without UN approval. If Americans believed that world public opinion backed the United States going to war with Iraq, then they may have seen the war as legitimate even if some members of the UN Security Council obstructed approval. Of course, people do not develop misperceptions in a vacuum. The administration disseminates information directly and by implication. The press transmits this information and, at least in theory, provides critical analysis. One s source of news or how closely one pays attention to the news may influence whether or how misperceptions may develop. To find out more about the possible role of misperceptions in public support for the Iraq war, and the role of the media in this process before and during the war, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) conducted a series of polls with the polling firm Knowledge Networks (KN). From January through May 2003, a more limited set of questions was asked in four different polls. Later, Knowledge Networks developed a more systematic set of questions that was included in a series of three polls, conducted from June through 2 In August 2002, 55 percent thought Iraq currently has weapons of mass destruction, and 39 percent thought Iraq is trying to develop these weapons but does not currently have them (CNN/USA Today). On al Qaeda, Newsweek asked in September 2002, From what you ve seen or heard in the news... do you believe that Saddam Hussein s regime in Iraq is harboring al Qaeda terrorists and helping them to develop chemical weapons, or not? Seventy-five percent said yes. Yet, in a February 2003 CBS News poll, only 31 percent agreed that Iraq presents such a clear danger to American interests that the United States needs to act now ; 64 percent agreed that the US needs to wait for approval of the United Nations before taking action against Iraq, and 62 percent said that the United States should wait and give the United Nations inspectors more time. 3 From May through November 2003, the Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks (PIPA/KN) has found a declining majority of 68 percent to 57 percent saying the US made the right decision... in going to war with Iraq.
4 misperceptions, the media, and the iraq war 571 September, with a total of 3,334 respondents. These results were combined with the findings from four other polls, conducted from January through May, for a total data set of 8,634 respondents. In addition, relevant polling data from other organizations were analyzed, including polls that asked questions about possible misperceptions. The polls were fielded by Knowledge Networks using its nationwide panel. Panel members are recruited through standard telephone interviews with random digit dialing (RDD) samples of the entire adult population and subsequently provided internet access. Questionnaires are then administered over the Internet to a randomly selected sample of the panel. 4 This article first explores the degree of pervasiveness of misperceptions, particularly the following three: that since the war U.S. forces have found Iraqi WMD in Iraq; that clear evidence has been found that Saddam Hussein was working closely with al Qaeda; and that world public opinion was in favor of the United States going to war with Iraq. Second, it analyzes the relationship between the holding of these misperceptions and support for the Iraq war by using multivariate regression analysis to compare the strength of this factor with a range of other factors. Third, it analyzes the relationship between the holding of misperceptions and the respondent s primary news source. Fourth, it evaluates the relationship between attention to news and the level of misperceptions. Fifth, it analyzes misperceptions as a function of political attitudes, including intention to vote for the President and party identification. A binary logistic regression analysis including misperceptions and eight other factors provides a ranking of factors by power. The article concludes with an analysis of the various factors that could explain the phenomenon of misperceptions, including administration statements and media reporting. Misperceptions Related to the Iraq War In the run-up to the war with Iraq and in the postwar period, a significant portion of the American public has held a number of misperceptions 5 relevant to the rationales for going to war with Iraq. While in most cases only a minority has had any particular misperception, a strong majority has had at least one key misperception. Close Links between Iraq and al Qaeda Both before and after the war, a substantial portion of Americans have believed that evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda existed. Before the 4 For more information about this methodology, see the Appendix or go to com/ganp. 5 Herein the term misperceptions is not used to refer to controversial beliefs about what U.S. intelligence has been able to infer, such as the belief that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in September 11. The term is limited to noncontroversial perceptions such as whether actual weapons or actual evidence have in fact been found. The misperception related to world public opinion is established based on polling data discussed later.
5 572 political science quarterly TABLE 1 Evidence of Link between Iraq and al Qaeda ( percentages) Is it your impression that the US has or has not found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al Qaeda terrorist organization? 8 9/03 7/03 6/03 (6/03 9/03) US has US has not (No answer) Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks. war, in the January PIPA/KN poll, 68 percent expressed the belief that Iraq played an important role in September 11, with 13 percent even expressing the belief that conclusive evidence of Iraq s involvement had been found. Asked in June, July, and August-September (Table 1), large percentages (45 to 52 percent) said they believed that the United States had found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al-qaeda [sic] terrorist organization. Harris Interactive in June and August asked, Do you believe clear evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found in Iraq or not? In June, 48 percent said that clear evidence had been found, with just 33 percent saying that it had not and 19 percent saying they were not sure. Despite intensive discussion of the issue in the press, in August the numbers were essentially the same: 50 percent believed evidence had been found, 35 percent believed that it had not been, and 14 percent were unsure. Weapons of Mass Destruction Before the war, overwhelming majorities believed that Iraq had WMD. Though it now appears likely that this belief was incorrect, it does not seem appropriate to call this a misperception because it was so widespread at the time, even within the intelligence community. However, a striking misperception occurred after the war, when the United States failed to find any WMD or even any solid evidence of a WMD program. PIPA/KN first asked in May whether respondents thought that the United States has or has not found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and 34 percent said the United States had (another 7 percent did not know). In June, Harris Interactive subsequently asked, Do you believe clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction has been found in Iraq or not? and 35 percent said that it had. PIPA/KN asked again in late June during a period with much discussion in the press about the absence of WMD and found that the percentage hold-
6 misperceptions, the media, and the iraq war 573 TABLE 2 Existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq ( percentages) Since the war with Iraq ended, is it your impression that the US has or has not found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? 9/03 7/03 6/03 3/03 (6/03 9/03) US has US has not (No answer) Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks. ing this belief had dropped to 23 percent. This number then stayed roughly the same in July and early September. In late July, NBC/Wall Street Journal asked whether the United States has been successful in finding evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and 22 percent said that it had. Harris asked again in mid- August and found 27 percent saying that evidence of WMD had been found (Table 2). Americans have also incorrectly believed that Iraq actually used WMD in the recent war with the United States. PIPA/KN asked respondents whether Iraq did or did not use chemical or biological weapons in the war that had just ended. In May, 22 percent of respondents said that it had. In mid-june, ABC/ Washington Post presented a slightly adapted version of the question and found 24 percent said that that they thought it had. When asked by PIPA/KN again in August-September, the percentage saying that Iraq had used such weapons slipped only slightly to 20 percent. World Public Opinion A key factor in American public support for going to war with Iraq has been its international legitimacy. Right up to the period immediately before the war, a majority favored taking more time to build international support. A key question, then, is how the public perceived world public opinion on going to war with Iraq. PIPA/KN polls have shown that Americans have misperceived world public opinion on the U.S. decision to go to war and on the way that the United States is generally dealing with the problem of terrorism. This has been true during and after the war and applies to perceptions about world public opinion as a whole, European public opinion, and public opinion in the Muslim world. In March 2003, shortly after the war started, PIPA/KN asked respondents how all of the people in the world feel about the US going to war with Iraq. Respondents perceived greater support for the war than existed at the time or has existed since. 6 Only 35 percent perceived correctly that the majority of 6 Gallup International conducted two international polls (in January and April-May 2003) and Pew Research Center conducted one (in April-May 2003), which included poll questions that directly measured support or opposition to the Iraq war. In the three polls taken together, fifty-six countries were
7 574 political science quarterly people opposed the decision. Thirty-one percent expressed the mistaken assumption that views were evenly balanced on the issue, and another 31 percent expressed the egregious misperception that the majority favored it. Asked again in June, July, and August-September, these views changed very little. Perceptions have been a bit more accurate when it comes to perceiving European public opinion, but still there are widespread misperceptions. Asked in June and August-September, nearly half (48 to 49 percent) correctly said that the majority of people oppose the United States having gone to war. But 29 to 30 percent believed incorrectly that views are evenly balanced, and 18 percent believed that the majority even favors it. 7 A substantial number of Americans also misperceive attitudes in the Islamic world toward U.S. efforts to fight terrorism and its policies in the Middle East. Respondents were asked in August-September whether they thought a majority of people in the Islamic world favor or oppose U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism. A plurality of 48 percent incorrectly assumed that a majority of Islamic people favors U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism, while 46 percent assumed that they do not. When asked whether respondents thought a majority of people in the Islamic world think U.S. policies in the Middle East make the region more or less stable, 35 percent incorrectly assumed that the majority of people in the Islamic world feel that U.S. policies make the region more stable, while 60 percent perceived attitudes correctly. 8 surveyed. The January Gallup International poll asked, Are you in favor of military action against Iraq: under no circumstances; only if sanctioned by the United Nations; unilaterally by America and its allies? Of the thirty-eight countries polled (including twenty European countries), not a single one showed majority support for unilateral action, and in nearly every case the percentage was very low. When asked, If military action goes ahead against Iraq, do you think [survey country] should or should not support this action? in thirty-four of the thirty-eight countries polled (seventeen out of twenty in Europe), a majority opposed having their country support this action. In April-May, the Pew Global Attitudes Survey asked respondents in eighteen countries how they felt about their country s decision to participate or not participate in us[ing] military force against Iraq. Among the thirteen countries that had not participated, in every case, a large to overwhelming majority approved of the decision. For the three countries that contributed troops, in the United Kingdom and Australia, a majority approved; in Spain, a majority was opposed. For the two countries that had allowed the United States to use bases, in Kuwait, the majority approved; in Turkey, the majority was opposed. For full results, see and 7 Ibid. 8 The Pew Global Attitudes survey in summer 2002 and May 2003 asked in seven countries with primarily Muslim populations (Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco, plus the Palestinian Authority): Which of the following phrases comes closer to your view? I favor the US-led efforts to fight terrorism, or I oppose the US-led efforts to fight terrorism. In six of the eight cases, strong majorities ranging from 56 to 85 percent in summer 2002, and rising to 67 to 97 percent in May 2003, said they opposed US-led efforts to fight terrorism. In only one case Kuwait in May 2003 did a majority say they favored U.S. efforts. In the case of Pakistan, a plurality of 45 percent opposed U.S. efforts in the summer of 2003, rising to 74 percent in May In May 2003, respondents were asked: Do you think US policies in the Middle East make the region more stable or less stable? In six of the eight cases, majorities said that U.S. policies in the Middle East make the region less stable. These majorities ranged from 56 percent in Lebanon to 91 percent in Jordan. In Pakistan, 43 percent said U.S. policies make the Middle East less stable, but another 43 percent said
8 misperceptions, the media, and the iraq war 575 FIGURE 1 Percentage Having Key Misperceptions: Evidence of Links to al Qaeda, WMD Found, and World Public Opinion Favorable Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks, October Combined Analysis Most specific misperceptions are held by a minority of respondents. However, this does not tell us if these misperceptions are held by the same minority or if large percentages have at least one misperception. To find out, we repeated three key perception questions over three polls, conducted in June, July, and August-September with 3,334 respondents. The three key perception questions used were the ones that found the most egregious misperceptions, and to qualify as a misperception the most extreme form of the misperception was used. These were the beliefs: Clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was working closely with al Qaeda has been found. Weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. World public opinion favored the United States going to war with Iraq. To determine the pervasiveness of misperceptions, we focused on the 1,362 respondents who heard all three of the perception questions. Misperceptions were not limited to a small minority that had repeated misperceptions. A majority of 60 percent had at least one of these three unambiguous misperceptions, and only 30 percent had no misperceptions (Figure 1). Another 10 percent had the more modest misperception that world public opinion was evenly balanced between support and opposition to the Iraq war. U.S. policies either made no difference (12 percent) or that they did not know (31 percent). In Kuwait, a 48 percent plurality said U.S. policies made the Middle East more stable.
9 576 political science quarterly Misperceptions and Support for War The misperceptions about the war appear to be highly related to attitudes about the decision to go to war, both before and after the war. In every case, those who have the misperception have been more supportive of the war. As the combined analysis of the three key misperceptions will show, those with none of the key misperceptions have opposed the decision while the presence of each additional misperception has gone together with sharply higher support. Close Links to al Qaeda Before the war, those who believed that Iraq was directly involved in September 11 showed greater support for going to war even without multilateral approval. In the January PIPA/KN poll, among those who wrongly believed that they had seen conclusive evidence that Iraq played an important role in September 11 attacks, 56 percent said they would agree with a decision by the President to proceed to go to war with Iraq if the UN Security Council refused to endorse such an action. Among those who said they had not seen such evidence but still believed that Iraq was involved in September 11, 42 percent said they would support such a decision. Among those who said they had not seen such evidence and were not convinced that it was true, only 9 percent said they would agree with such a decision. In the February PIPA/KN poll, support for going to war was high among those who believed that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in September 11 but was progressively lower as the perceived link between Iraq and al Qaeda became more tenuous. Among those who believed that Iraq was directly involved in September 11, 58 percent said they would agree with the President deciding to go to war with Iraq even without UN approval. Among those who believed that Iraq had given al Qaeda substantial support but was not involved in September 11, support dropped to 37 percent. Among those who believed that a few al Qaeda individuals had contact with Iraqi officials, 32 percent were supportive, while just 25 percent expressed support among those who believed that there was no connection. During the war, Americans who supported the war also said that the supposed link was a major reason for supporting the decision to go to war. An April poll for Investor s Business Daily and the Christian Science Monitor asked the 72 percent who said they supported the war to rate the importance of a number of reasons for their support. Iraq s connection with groups like Al-Qaeda was rated as a major reason by 80 percent. After the war, nearly half of the respondents mistakenly believed that clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was working closely with al Qaeda had been found. PIPA/KN found a strong relationship between the belief that evidence of such links has been found and support for the decision to go to war. Combin-
10 misperceptions, the media, and the iraq war 577 FIGURE 2 Support for War and Misperception of Evidence of Iraqi Links to al Qaeda Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks, October Note: The question also offered respondents the option of saying that they did not know if going to war was the best thing to do, but that they nonetheless supported the President. Here and in comparisons discussed later, we have limited our analysis to those who took an unequivocal position in favor or against the decision to go to war. ing data from June through September, among those with the misperception, 67 percent held the view that going to war was the best thing to do, while only 29 percent expressed support among those who did not have the misperception (Figure 2). Among those without the misperception, 52 percent said it was the wrong decision. Just as before the war, in the postwar period there was also a strong relationship between beliefs about the nature of the connection between al Qaeda and Iraq and support for the war. Among those who believed that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in September 11, 69 percent said going to war was the best thing to do. Among those who believed that Iraq had given al Qaeda substantial support but was not involved in September 11, approval dropped to 54 percent. Among those who believed that a few al Qaeda individuals had contact with Iraqi officials, 39 percent were supportive, while just 11 percent expressed support among those who believed that there was no connection. Among those who believed that there was no connection, 73 percent thought that going to war was the wrong decision. Weapons of Mass Destruction The mistaken beliefs that WMD have been found in Iraq, or that Iraq used WMD in the war, have been highly related to support for the decision to go to war. Consolidating all respondents asked by PIPA/KN in four polls conducted from May through September, among those who believed that WMD have been
11 578 political science quarterly FIGURE 3 Support for the War and Misperception that Iraqi WMD Found Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks, October found, 73 percent thought that going to war was the best decision (Figure 3). Among those who did not have this misperception, only 41 percent held this view. Similarly, consolidating two polls conducted in May and August-September, among those who believed that Iraq had used chemical and biological weapons in the war, 64 percent said they thought going to war was the best thing to do. Among those who did not have this belief, only 48 percent thought it was the best thing to do. World Public Opinion Perceptions of world public opinion on going to war with Iraq have been significantly related to support for the war. This has been true during and after the war. In the PIPA/KN poll conducted in late March, shortly after the onset of the war, among those who wrongly believed that the majority of the people in the world favored the United States going to war with Iraq, an overwhelming 81 percent said they agreed with the President s decision to go to war with Iraq, despite his failure to garner UN Security Council approval. Among those who also incorrectly believed that views were evenly balanced on this question, 58 percent said they agreed. Among those who correctly believed that the majority of people opposed it, only 28 percent said they agreed with the President s decision. When polled after the war (May-September) the pattern was basically the same, though a different question was used to measure support for the war (Figure 4).
12 misperceptions, the media, and the iraq war 579 FIGURE 4 Views of World Public Opinion and Support for War During and After the War Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks, October Combined Analysis To determine the cumulative strength of the relationship between various misperceptions and support for the war, we analyzed those who had been asked all of the three key misperception questions whether evidence of links between Iraq and al Qaeda have been found, whether WMD have been found in Iraq, and whether world public opinion favored the United States going to war with Iraq in three polls conducted from June through September. These polls revealed a strong cumulative relationship (Figure 5). Multivariate Analysis To determine how strong a factor misperceptions are in predicting support for the war as compared to other factors, a binary logistic regression analysis was performed together with eight other factors. Four of the factors were demographic: gender, age, household income, and education. Two other categorical factors were party identification and intention to vote for the President in the next election as opposed to an unnamed Democratic nominee. In addition, there were the factors of how closely people follow events in Iraq and their primary news source. The odds ratio statistic was used to determine the relative likelihood that respondents would support the war. Support for the war was defined as the respondent saying that he or she thought the war was the right decision and the best thing to do, not that he or she was just supporting the President. For this analysis, the number of respondents was 1,219.
13 580 political science quarterly FIGURE 5 Cumulative Effect of Having Key Misperceptions on Support for the War Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks, October Note: Misperceptions included were that clear evidence of Iraq-al Qaeda links have been found, WMD have been found, and world public opinion favored the Iraq war. When all respondents with one or more of the three key misperceptions were put into one category and compared to those with none of these misperceptions, the presence of misperceptions was the most powerful predictor of support for the war, with those misperceiving being 4.3 times more likely to support the war than those who did not misperceive. The second most powerful predictor was the intention to vote for the President, with those intending to vote for the President being 3 times more likely to support the war than those who planned to vote for the Democratic nominee. Those who intended to vote for the Democratic nominee were 1.8 times less likely to support the war. All other factors were far less influential. Those who followed the news on Iraq very or somewhat closely were 1.2 times more likely to support the war than those who followed it not very closely or not at all. Men were 1.5 times more likely to support the war than women. Those with higher incomes were very slightly more likely to support the war. All other factors were insignificant, including education and age. Party identification by itself would be predictive, but when intention to vote for the President is included, party identification also becomes insignificant. To determine the cumulative strength of misperceptions as a predictor of war support, the smaller sample that received all of the three key misperceptions questions was analyzed. Respondents were divided into four categories of no misperceptions, exactly one misperception, exactly two misperceptions, and all three misperceptions. Those with just one misperception were 2.9 times more likely to support the war, rising to 8.1 times more likely among those with exactly two misperceptions and to 9.8 times more likely among those with all
14 misperceptions, the media, and the iraq war 581 three misperceptions. In this sample, all other factors remain essentially unchanged, with those intending to vote for the President being 2.8 times and men 1.5 times more likely to support the war. Those intending to vote for the Democratic nominee were 1.6 times less likely to support the war. Attention to news coded as a binary form, however, became insignificant while remaining significant as a continuous variable. When the three key misperceptions are treated as separate factors, there is wide variation in their power to predict support for the war. By far, the strongest is the perception of world public opinion, with those who perceive the world public opinion as approving of the war being 3.3 times more likely to support the war themselves. Those with the perception that evidence of links to al Qaeda have been found were 2.5 times more likely to support the war, and those who perceived that evidence of WMD have been found were 2.0 times more likely. Misperceptions as a Function of Source of News The widespread presence of misperceptions naturally raises the question of whether they are to some extent a function of an individual s source of news. To find out, in three different PIPA/KN polls conducted in June, July, and August- September, an aggregate sample of 3,334 respondents was asked, Where do you tend to get most of your news? and offered the options of newspapers and magazines or TV and radio. Overall, 19 percent said their primary news source was print media, while 80 percent said it was electronic. Respondents were then asked, If one of the networks below is your primary source of news please select it. If you get news from two or more networks about equally, just go on to the next question. The networks offered were ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, PBS, and NPR. Because the PBS and NPR viewers were such a small percentage, we combined them into one category of public networks. In the case of ABC, CBS, and NBC, we do not know how many people primarily got their news from local affiliates and how many from national news shows. Likewise, we do not know if all of those who said that they got their news from Fox News primarily got their news from the national cable news network and how many from local Fox affiliates. 9 The same respondents were also asked about their perceptions, with 1,362 respondents receiving all three key perception questions and 3,334 respondents receiving at least one of them that is, whether evidence of close links between Iraq and al Qaeda has been found, whether WMD have been found in Iraq, and whether world public opinion approved of the United States going to war with Iraq. 9 Numbers for those naming a network as their primary news source were as follows: Fox, 520; CBS, 258; CNN, 466; ABC, 315; NBC, 420; NPR/PBS, 91. All findings in this section were statistically significant at the p 0.05 level, except where noted.
15 582 political science quarterly TABLE 4 Frequency of Misperceptions per Respondent: WMD Found, Evidence of al Qaeda Link, and World Majority Support for War ( percentages) Number of misperceptions per respondent Fox CBS ABC CNN NBC Print Media NPR/PBS None of the three Oneormore misperception Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks. Combined Analysis Because it provides the best overview of the relationship between media sources, this article first analyzes the relationship between media sources and the presence of multiple misperceptions to explore the variation in the level of misperceptions according to the respondents news source. Afterward, it analyzes the variance for specific misperceptions. An analysis of those who were asked all of the key three perception questions does reveal a remarkable level of variation in the presence of misperceptions according to news source. Standing out in the analysis are Fox and NPR/ PBS, but for opposite reasons. Fox was the news source whose viewers had the most misperceptions. NPR/PBS are notable because their viewers and listeners consistently held fewer misperceptions than respondents who obtained their information from other news sources. Table 4 shows this clearly. Listed are the breakouts of the sample according to the frequency of the three key misperceptions (that is, the beliefs that evidence of links between Iraq and al Qaeda has been found, that WMD have been found in Iraq, and that world public opinion approved of the United States going to war with Iraq) and their primary news source. In the audience for NPR/PBS, there was an overwhelming majority who did not have any of the three misperceptions, and hardly any had all three. To check these striking findings, the data were analyzed a different way by using the larger sample of 3,334 who had answered at least one of the three questions just mentioned. For each misperception, it was determined how widespread it was in each media audience, and then for each media audience this frequency was averaged for the three misperceptions. Table 5 shows the averages from lowest to highest. Again, the Fox audience showed the highest average rate of misperceptions (45 percent) while the NPR/PBS audience showed the lowest (11 percent). Close Links to al Qaeda The same pattern in the distribution of misperceptions among the news sources was obtained in the cases of each specific misperception. When asked whether
16 misperceptions, the media, and the iraq war 583 TABLE 5 Average of Three Misperception Rates among Viewers and Listeners: WMD Found, Evidence of al Qaeda Link, and World Majority Support for War ( percentages) News Source Average Rate per Misperception Fox 45 CBS 36 CNN 31 ABC 30 NBC 30 Print Media 25 NPR/PBS 11 Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks. the United States has found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al-qaeda terrorist organization, among the combined sample for the three-month period, 49 percent said that such evidence had been found (Table 6). This misperception was substantially higher among those who get their news primarily from Fox, 67 percent. Once again the NPR/PBS audience was the lowest at 16 percent. Variations were much more modest on the perception that Iraq was directly involved in September 11. As discussed, the view that Iraq was directly involved in September 11 is not a demonstrable misperception, but it is widely regarded as fallacious by the intelligence community. In this case, the highest level of misperceptions was in the CBS audience (33 percent) followed by Fox (24 percent), ABC (23 percent), NBC (22 percent), and CNN (21 percent). Respondents who got their news primarily from print media (14 percent) and NPR or PBS (10 percent) were less likely to choose this description. Combining the above group with those who had the less egregious but still unproven belief that Iraq gave substantial support to al Qaeda, the pattern was similar. Among CBS viewers, 68 percent had one of these perceptions, as did 66 percent of Fox viewers, 59 percent of NBC viewers, 55 percent of CNN view- TABLE 6 Viewers Beliefs on Whether the United States Has Found Evidence of an al Qaeda-Iraq Link ( percentages) Clear Evidence of al Qaeda Link NBC CBS ABC Fox CNN NPR/PBS Print Media US has found US has not found Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks.
17 584 political science quarterly TABLE 7 Perception that the United States Has or Has Not Found WMD ( percentages) Weapons of Mass Destruction NBC CBS ABC Fox CNN NPR/PBS Print Media US has found US has not found Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks. ers, and 53 percent of ABC viewers. Print readers were nearly as high at 51 percent, while NPR/PBS audiences were significantly lower at 28 percent. Weapons of Mass Destruction When respondents were asked whether the United States has found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction since the war had ended, 22 percent of all respondents over June through September mistakenly thought this had happened. Once again, Fox viewers were the highest with 33 percent having this belief. A lower 19 to 23 percent of viewers who watch ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN had the perception that the United States has found WMD. Seventeen percent of those who primarily get their news from print sources had the misperception, while only 11 percent who watch PBS or listen to NPR had it (Table 7). World Public Opinion Respondents were also asked to give their impression of how they think people in the world feel about the US having gone to war with Iraq. Over the three-month period, 25 percent of all respondents said, incorrectly, the majority of people favor the US having gone to war (Table 8). Of Fox watchers, 35 percent said this. Only 5 percent of those who watch PBS or listen to NPR misperceived world opinion in this way. As usual, those who primarily get their news from print media were the second lowest, with 17 percent having this misperception. TABLE 8 World Public Opinion on the United States Going to War ( percentages) Majority of people in world... NBC CBS ABC Fox CNN NPR/PBS Print Media Favor US going to war in Iraq Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks.
18 misperceptions, the media, and the iraq war 585 Numerous respondents also chose the option of saying that in world public opinion, views are evenly balanced between favoring and opposing going to war a misperception, though less egregious. Combining those who said views were evenly balanced with those who assumed that the majority favored the Iraq war a more inclusive definition of misperception the same pattern obtained. Fox viewers had the highest level of misperceiving (69 percent) and NPR/PBS the lowest (26 percent). The others also formed a familiar pattern: CBS viewers at 63 percent, ABC at 58 percent, NBC at 56 percent, CNN at 54 percent, and print media at 45 percent. The same question was asked about European opinion. Perceptions of European views are more accurate among the U.S. public: only 17 percent thought there had been majority support among Europeans for the war. Over the three months, CBS viewers most frequently misperceived European opinion (24 percent); Fox viewers were second (20 percent). The NPR/PBS audience and those relying on printed media were lowest, both at 13 percent. If one adds together those who thought there was European majority support with those who thought views in Europe were evenly balanced, 47 percent misperceived European opinion; CBS viewers were highest at 56 percent, NBC and Fox viewers were next at 52 percent and 51 percent respectively, while the NPR/PBS audience was lowest at 29 percent. ABC viewers and those using print sources were tied for second lowest at 41 percent. The Effect of Variations in Audiences The question thus arises of whether the variation in misperceptions is a function of variations in the demographics or political attitudes of the audience. Some audiences varied according to education, party identification, and support for the President. However, as is evident in the regression analysis, when all of these factors are analyzed together, the respondent s primary source of news is still a strong and significant factor; indeed, it was one of the most powerful factors predicting misperceptions. Misperceptions as a Function of Level of Attention to News It would seem reasonable to assume that misperceptions are due to a failure to pay attention to news and that those who have greater exposure to news would have fewer misperceptions. All respondents were asked, How closely are you following the news about the situation in Iraq now? For the summer as a whole (June, July, August-September), 13 percent said they were following the news very closely, 43 percent somewhat closely, 29 percent not very closely, and 14 percent not closely at all. Strikingly, overall, there was no relation between the reported level of attention to news and the frequency of misperceptions. In the case of those who primarily watched Fox, greater attention to news modestly increased the likeli-
19 586 political science quarterly hood of misperceptions. Only in the case of those who primarily got their news from print did misperceptions decrease with lower levels of attention, though in some cases this occurred for CNN viewers as well. The most robust effects were found among those who primarily got their news from Fox. Among those who did not follow the news at all, 42 percent had the misperception that evidence of close links to al Qaeda has been found, rising progressively at higher levels of attention to 80 percent among those who followed the news very closely. For the perception that WMD have been found, those who watched very closely had the highest rate of misperception at 44 percent, while the other levels of attention were lower, though they did not form a clear pattern (not at all, 34 percent; not very, 24 percent; somewhat, 32 percent). Among those who did not follow the news at all, 22 percent believed that world public opinion favored the war, jumping to 34 percent and 32 percent among those who followed the news not very and somewhat closely, respectively, and then jumping even higher to 48 percent among those who followed the news very closely. With increasing attention, those who got their news from print were less likely to have all three misperceptions. Of those not following the news closely, 49 percent had the misperception that evidence of close links has been found, declining to 32 percent among those who followed the news very closely. Those who did not follow the news at all were far more likely to misperceive (35 percent) that WMD had been found than the other levels (not very, 14 percent; somewhat, 18 percent; very, 13 percent). Twenty-five percent of those who did not follow the news at all had the misperception that world public opinion favored the war, dropping to 16 percent for all other categories. CNN viewers showed slightly, but significantly, lower levels of misperception on finding WMD and world public opinion at higher levels of attention, though not on evidence of links to al Qaeda. Misperceptions as a Function of Political Attitudes Not surprisingly, political attitudes did play a role in the frequency of misperceptions. The intention to vote for the President was highly influential. Party identification was also influential; however, this effect disappeared after controlling for intention to vote for the President. Intention to Vote for the President The polls of June, July, and August-September all included a question, placed near the end, asking whether the respondents thought they would vote for Bush or for the Democratic nominee in the presidential election (Figure 6). In all cases, the responses were very similar to those in numerous other polls at the same time and showed either a slight edge for Bush or a statistical tie. Only 10 percent did not answer the question. When Bush supporters and supporters
20 misperceptions, the media, and the iraq war 587 FIGURE 6 Support for President and Frequency of Misperceptions Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes/Knowledge Networks, October of a Democratic nominee are compared, it is clear that supporters of the President are more likely to have misperceptions than are those who oppose him. Multivariate analysis indicates that intention to vote for the President is the single most powerful predictor of misperceptions. Taking the averages of the percentage that had each of the three key misperceptions evidence of al Qaeda links found, WMD found, and world public opinion favors war those who said they would vote for the President were far more likely to misperceive. On average, those who would vote for the President held misperceptions 45 percent of the time, while those who say they will vote for a Democrat held misperceptions, on average, 17 percent of the time (Figure 6). Looking at the specific cases, in response to the question Has the US found clear evidence Saddam Hussein was working closely with al-qaeda? a strikingly large 68 percent of Bush supporters believed that the United States has found such evidence. On the other side, an equally striking 66 percent of supporters of a Democratic nominee knew that such evidence has not been found. When asked to characterize the relationship between the previous Iraqi government and al Qaeda given four choices, 29 percent of Bush supporters said, Iraq was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks. Only 15 percent of Democratic supporters chose this description. Only minorities of either Bush supporters or supporters of a Democratic nominee believe that the United States has found evidence of WMD in Iraq. However, three times as many Bush supporters as Democrat supporters hold this misperception. Thirty-one percent of Bush supporters think the United States has found such evidence, while only 10 percent of Democrat supporters think this.
21 588 political science quarterly When asked, How do you think the people of the world feel about the US having gone to war with Iraq? Bush supporters were more than three times more likely than supporters of a Democratic nominee to believe that the majority of people favor the US having gone to war. Thirty-six percent of Bush supporters had this misperception, while only 11 percent of Democratic supporters did. The PIPA/KN polls asked the same question about Europe, on which misperceptions are less widespread among Americans. Twenty-six percent of Bush supporters mistakenly thought that a majority of Europeans favored the war, while only 7 percent of supporters of a Democratic nominee believed this. Party Identification Republicans are also more likely than Democrats or independents to have misperceptions. However, when the analysis controls for support for the President, this party difference largely disappears. For example, among Bush supporters, Republicans, Democrats, and independents were similarly likely to believe that the United States has found clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was working closely with al Qaeda (pro-bush Republicans, 68 percent; pro-bush Democrats, 77 percent; pro-bush independents, 67 percent). On whether the United States has found evidence of WMD, the same pattern among Bush supporters was present (31 percent of pro-bush Republicans believing such evidence has been found, 29 percent of pro-bush Democrats believing this, and 29 percent of pro-bush independents believing this). The same pattern appeared in all cases tested. Relative Strength of Various Factors Related to Level of Misperception To determine which factors had the most power to predict the likelihood of misperceiving, we performed a binary logistic regression analysis, together with eight other factors. Four of the factors were demographic: gender, age, household income, and education. Two other categorical factors were party identification and intention to vote for the President in the next election, as opposed to an unnamed Democratic nominee. In addition, we included the factors of how closely people follow events in Iraq and what their primary news source was. The odds ratio statistic was used to determine the likelihood that respondents would have misperceptions. In the regression analysis, the most powerful factor was the intention to vote for President Bush. As compared to those who intended to vote for the Democratic nominee or were undecided, those who intended to vote for the President were 2.9 times more likely to believe that close links to al Qaeda have been found, 3.0 times more likely to believe that WMD had been found, and 2.6 times more likely to believe that world public opinion was favorable to the war. Overall, those who intended to vote for the President were 3.7 times more likely to have at least one of these misperceptions.
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